If your program is too large to fit completely in your target system's
memory, you can sometimes use overlays to work around this
problem. gdb provides some support for debugging programs that
13.1. How Overlays Work
Suppose you have a computer whose instruction address space is only 64
kilobytes long, but which has much more memory which can be accessed by
other means: special instructions, segment registers, or memory
management hardware, for example. Suppose further that you want to
adapt a program which is larger than 64 kilobytes to run on this system.
One solution is to identify modules of your program which are relatively
independent, and need not call each other directly; call these modules
overlays. Separate the overlays from the main program, and place
their machine code in the larger memory. Place your main program in
instruction memory, but leave at least enough space there to hold the
largest overlay as well.
Now, to call a function located in an overlay, you must first copy that
overlay's machine code from the large memory into the space set aside
for it in the instruction memory, and then jump to its entry point
Data Instruction Larger
Address Space Address Space Address Space
+-----------+ +-----------+ +-----------+
| | | | | |
+-----------+ +-----------+ +-----------+<-- overlay 1
| program | | main | .----| overlay 1 | load address
| variables | | program | | +-----------+
| and heap | | | | | |
+-----------+ | | | +-----------+<-- overlay 2
| | +-----------+ | | | load address
+-----------+ | | | .-| overlay 2 |
| | | | | |
mapped --->+-----------+ | | +-----------+
address | | | | | |
| overlay | <-' | | |
| area | <---' +-----------+<-- overlay 3
| | <---. | | load address
+-----------+ `--| overlay 3 |
| | | |
+-----------+ | |
A code overlay
The diagram above shows a system with separate data
and instruction address spaces. To map an overlay, the program copies
its code from the larger address space to the instruction address space.
Since the overlays shown here all use the same mapped address, only one
may be mapped at a time. For a system with a single address space for
data and instructions, the diagram would be similar, except that the
program variables and heap would share an address space with the main
program and the overlay area.
An overlay loaded into instruction memory and ready for use is called a
mapped overlay; its mapped address is its address in the
instruction memory. An overlay not present (or only partially present)
in instruction memory is called unmapped; its load address
is its address in the larger memory. The mapped address is also called
the virtual memory address, or VMA; the load address is also
called the load memory address, or LMA.
Unfortunately, overlays are not a completely transparent way to adapt a
program to limited instruction memory. They introduce a new set of
global constraints you must keep in mind as you design your program:
Before calling or returning to a function in an overlay, your program
must make sure that overlay is actually mapped. Otherwise, the call or
return will transfer control to the right address, but in the wrong
overlay, and your program will probably crash.
If the process of mapping an overlay is expensive on your system, you
will need to choose your overlays carefully to minimize their effect on
your program's performance.
The executable file you load onto your system must contain each
overlay's instructions, appearing at the overlay's load address, not its
mapped address. However, each overlay's instructions must be relocated
and its symbols defined as if the overlay were at its mapped address.
You can use GNU linker scripts to specify different load and relocation
addresses for pieces of your program; see .
The procedure for loading executable files onto your system must be able
to load their contents into the larger address space as well as the
instruction and data spaces.
The overlay system described above is rather simple, and could be
improved in many ways:
If your system has suitable bank switch registers or memory management
hardware, you could use those facilities to make an overlay's load area
contents simply appear at their mapped address in instruction space.
This would probably be faster than copying the overlay to its mapped
area in the usual way.
If your overlays are small enough, you could set aside more than one
overlay area, and have more than one overlay mapped at a time.
You can use overlays to manage data, as well as instructions. In
general, data overlays are even less transparent to your design than
code overlays: whereas code overlays only require care when you call or
return to functions, data overlays require care every time you access
the data. Also, if you change the contents of a data overlay, you
must copy its contents back out to its load address before you can copy a
different data overlay into the same mapped area.